By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
MIDDLETON (CBS) — For the first time in more than two decades, former Bruins forward Shawn Thornton won’t be reporting to training camp as a player next month when the NHL ends its summer break.READ MORE: Oil Spill Settlement To Fund Loon Conservation Projects
Thornton, however, has no regrets about retiring and taking a job as the Florida Panthers’ vice president of business operations.
“People have been asking if I’m OK with the season coming, how I’m feeling. Honestly I had a great career. I had 20 years, I can’t complain, I’m actually real excited for what’s next,” Thornton said before teeing off at the Putts and Punches Golf Tournament for Parkinson’s Golf Tournament on Monday at Ferncroft Country Club.
Bruins fans know how much Thornton gave to their team through 480 regular-season games and 86 playoff games, including Boston’s run to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and the 2013 Eastern Conference title. All the hits, all the fights and even some big goals combined to make Thornton one of the most popular athletes in the city despite his supporting role on the team.
He embraced Boston and its residents, settled down in Charlestown, was ubiquitous around the community (even making unpublicized appearances at hospitals and the like) and began The Shawn Thornton Foundation. The seventh annual edition of the golf tournament was another sellout despite Thornton having been unaffiliated with the Bruins since 2014 and having been part of the Panthers since then.
Former Bruins teammates Tuukka Rask and Torey Krug were among the group of golfers and celebrities that also included Thornton’s Florida teammate Keith Yandle, Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel and others.READ MORE: Connecticut Becomes 1st State To Make All Prison Phone Calls Free
“I’m humbled by the fact that people still care,” Thornton said. “I’ve been gone for three years but this tournament sells out months before I even expect it to. I’m a little surprised and taken aback with how much support I still get here. I miss it, I do. I’d be back if I could but my new job demands my time in Florida. I do miss it here, I love it here. It still feels like home to me.”
The tournament has raised around $1 million over the years, a number Thornton said he is very proud of. That new job with the Panthers, however, is about more than money. It’s about making sure the Panthers are able to remain sustainable as a NHL franchise by solidifying the business side of the organization.
“I’m learning a lot. I’m touching on a bit of everything: marketing, partnerships, community relations, public relations, finance. I’m in meetings most of the day and sitting down just trying to learn as much as I can. I’ve got some things on my plate now that I can really sink my teeth into.”
Thornton said he’s mostly working right now to “create some excitement” around the Panthers’ brand. It’ll take more than the spectacular play of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad to overcome the challenges that come with playing in a Sun Belt market that has to be somewhat jaded by many more years of losing than winning.
Within the Panthers’ state they just have to look north to Tampa to see how to get this right. Every market presents different obstacles but there’s no reason the Panthers can’t be as successful on the ice and at the gate as the Lightning. That’s where Thornton and his co-workers will come in. Beyond all the great play on the ice and the work he did behind the scenes holding the Bruins together through tough times, Thornton proved adept at being a conduit between the players and the media, his teammates and the coaches.
If those skills carry over into the business world, the Panthers will benefit from Thornton’s abilities just like the Bruins did.MORE NEWS: 5 Rescued From The Water After Boat Overturns Near Marion
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.